A Teacher’s Plea: Don’t Teach Your Kids the “D” Word


“I can’t believe you failed me! I worked hard in this class and I deserve a passing grade.”

My student emailed me this message recently after she discovered her final grade at the end of the term. This student had completed only half the assignments due, even after I had allowed her extra time to work on several of them. Then she attempted to submit her last essay two weeks after final grades had been posted. When I broke the news that I wouldn’t accept the assignment and that she was going to fail the class, she was astonished. 


I have taught college writing for thirteen years. Early in my career, the “D” word never reared its ugly head. Sure, students have always argued with me about their grades. Some pose convincing arguments, some less convincing. And some just beg for mercy and extra credit. However, over the last seven or so years, the phrase “I deserve” has become increasingly common during these discussions.

Millennials and the “D” Word 

Many of my Millennial students have learned throughout their short lifetime that if they merely break a sweat, they deserve credit and a pat on the back. So, if students who submit mediocre work deserve a passing grade, what do their hard-working classmate deserve? The international ones who take seventeen credits while working a full-time job so they can stay in America? What about the classmates whose parents had to sell most of their possessions to send them to America for an education, and a chance at a better future? They struggles with writing in English, yet they work hard and manage to hand in every assignment on time. Do students who put forth the time and effort to turn in quality work truly deserve the same grade as those students who feel they deserve to pass my class for simply showing up? 

Parents and the “D” Word 

So, whose fault is it that these young adults believe they can turn in shabby work and expect a passing grade? It’s ours, their parents. 

Seeing our kids fail and feeling bad is tough. I get it. I would like to see only wonderful things happen for my two incredible children. But we won’t help them by never letting them fail, or worse, by teaching them they deserve better than others. 

We’re also not doing our children any favors by fighting their battles for them and telling them that simply working hard will earn them an “A.” Intervening when they’re young, even though we know they’re not putting forth their best effort, is detrimental in the long run. You see, before you know it, your children will graduate high school and quite possibly enter college where, for the first time, they will encounter a teacher like me who expects quality. Eventually, those students will (hopefully) graduate college and begin working for an employer who will also expect quality.

When students complain, I explain that my job is to equip them with the tools they need to meet the expectations of their future employer. How do you think their future boss will react when they submit a partially completed report a week after the deadline?

As a teacher, I would sell my students short if I accept mediocre effort and poor quality work. So do you, parents, when you don’t ensure your kids work their hardest or meet expectations. We set them up for failure when we teach them anything less. So, let’s omit the “D” word from our vocabulary, and see to it that our kids omit the “D” word from their vocabulary, as well.

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After visiting family in Oregon as a young girl, Kathleen became smitten with the Pacific Northwest and decided that someday she would settle and raise a family in this rainy wonderland. Bitten by the travel bug, she went to college, travelled, studied and worked in Europe for 3 years. But upon her return to New Mexico where she grew up, she knew it was time to pursue that childhood dream. She moved to Portland in 2003 with her adventurous fiance (now husband) who she met on an elevator. She still pinches herself occasionally when she realizes how blessed they are to live in this amazing state. Kathleen is mother to two entertaining children. The flexibility of her part-time job as a writing instructor at a local college allows her to work mostly from home, as well as home school her oldest child two days per week. When she’s not grading essays, wiping snotty noses, or picking up dog poo, she spends her time gardening, discovering hiking trails, teaching herself the fiddle, and exploring Oregon with her little brood.


  1. Excellent article. I couldn’t agree more.

    Maybe some of these students will read the article as they sit in their “safe spaces”.

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